2018/2019 Bundesliga Season Preview
Heat up the bratwuerste, start the Humbas, and get out the jerseys. The Bundesliga returns this week after a three month-long off-season, and fans are excited for what could be a delightful German league campaign. From the exciting European race to the talents set to the take the competition by storm, the 2018/2019 Bundesliga looks to be one heck of a ride.
League winners: Bayern Munich
It’s hard to argue against Bayern Munich clinching another league championship. The Bavarians have won the Bundesliga shield a record 27 times and are just coming off of their sixth-straight title win. Bayern Munich even started last season with just four wins in seven league games, but went on to clinch the Bundesliga with a 21-point lead on second-place Schalke 04. And this was without the service of captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who was out from September nursing a metatarsal fracture. With Neuer back and Bayern Munich coming off of a dominant 5-0 DFL-Supercup win over Eintracht Frankfurt, how can you bet against the Bavarians?
In fairness, Bayern Munich’s opponents have strengthened their squads in the off-season. Borussia Dortmund made a number of interesting signings, Bayer Leverkusen replaced the departing Bernd Leno with Lukas Hradecky, and bar Naby Keita, RB Leipzig’s key players are all still there (for now). But Bayern Munich did some summer dealings too. They let go of Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa (permanently, this time) and signed talented Canadian winger, Alphonso Davies. Most notably, they brought in midfielder Leon Goretzka from Schalke 04 and hired Niko Kovac, last season’s DFL-Pokal-winning manager, as their new gaffer.
Bayern Munich will (once again) be Bundesliga champions.
European challengers: Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, & Schalke 04 (Champions League), Stuttgart & Hoffenheim (Europa League)
Most neutrals tend to watch the Bundesliga not for its title fight, but more for the free-for-all that are the European spots. With second to fourth guaranteed a slot in the UEFA Champions League group stage, and fifth and sixth promised at least a Europa League second qualifying round appearance, the table’s European spots are where all the fun takes place.
To round out the podium, we’ll likely see Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen place second and third. Dortmund brought in some fresh faces, including those of Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney, and Achraf Hakimi on loan. They also signed reliable Swiss goalkeeper Marwin Hitz on a free and former Borussia Monchengladbach manager Lucien Favre as their new boss. Bayer Leverkusen’s only notable departure is that of seven-year veteran Bernd Leno, but they replaced him with the equally reliable Lukas Hradecky. They also added right-back Mitchell Weiser and Brazilian teenager Paulinho to their squad. Schalke did lose Leon Goretzka to Bayern Munich and Max Meyer to Crystal Palace, but the squad should still have enough quality to finish in the top four.
In terms of fifth and sixth, RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim and Stuttgart will be the main duelists. RB Leipzig have only lost Naby Keita for now, but with increasing pressure from other clubs, including Real Madrid, for Timo Werner’s signature, the Bulls may struggle to keep a hold of the German. If they lose him, they lose ground in the battle for top six. Hoffenheim’s bronze medal XI from last season has remained relatively unchanged, but with their opponents all having gotten stronger, have they only gotten weaker as a result? In Stuttgart’s case, they are set for a fantastic season. They finished the 2017/2018 campaign with four wins in their final four games, and with the arrivals of Gonzalo Castro and Daniel Didavi, 2018/2019 could be a good year for them. The league table could see Stuttgart sneak into fifth and Hoffenheim edge RB Leipzig for sixth.
Relegation: (Fortuna Dusseldorf & Nurnberg)
Newly promoted clubs tend to not have great welcome seasons. Bottom-half Bundesliga teams have usually been there for a while and know what it takes to remain in the first division. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for promoted sides to be relegated by the end of the season. The same story will likely be seen in the upcoming campaign. Fortuna Dusseldorf have only participated in one first division season in the 21st century, and they finished 17th with 18 losses from 34 games. In Nurnberg’s case, although they’ve been fortunate enough to play in the Bundesliga more often than Fortuna Dusseldorf, they tend to cut their returns very fine. In the 21st century alone, they’ve never finished higher than 15th in their return season. Both clubs have made a couple of intriguing signings, but none of which will prevent them from automatic relegation.
Stuttgart ended their 2017/2018 season on a very positive note. After starting the season with only six wins in 21 games, the Reds won nine of their last 13 to jump into the top seven. This had a lot to do with Tayfun Korkut, who assumed managerial duties in late January and guided Stuttgart to a 9-4-1 record (W-D-L) in their remaining Bundesliga games. This led to a good summer transfer window, in which the Reds snagged Gonzalo Castro from Borussia Dortmund and Daniel Didavi from Wolfsburg. If Korkut can continue to work his magic, the Reds could clinch a top five spot. Stuttgart will be a team to watch this season.
Underperformers: Eintracht Frankfurt
2017/2018 was one of Eintracht Frankfurt’s best seasons in a long time. Not only did the Eagles place eighth in the table, their best Bundesliga finish since 2013, but they also defeated Bayern Munich in the DFB-Pokal final, becoming the first team to do so since Borussia Dortmund in 2012.
Unfortunately, that success is not likely to last. Like most mid-table clubs who experience an optimistic season, Eintracht Frankfurt found a lot of potential suitors knocking at their players’ doors. Lacking the same appeal as some of those clubs, Eintracht Frankfurt saw key members of their squad depart in the off-season. Marius Wolf joined Borussia Dortmund, Kevin-Prince Boateng left for Sassuolo, and Lukas Hradecky departed for Bayer Leverkusen. Even head coach Niko Kovac swapped Frankfurt for Munich, signing with the reigning champions on a three-year contract. With the clubs around them strengthening their squads while theirs weakens, Eintracht Frankfurt could be on the verge of an underwhelming season.
Top scorer: Robert Lewandowski
Like the title choice, it’s difficult picking anyone other than Robert Lewandowski for the Bundesliga’s top scorer award. With no other scorer of his quality to compete with, Lewandowski practically has the award gift-wrapped for him. The Polish striker has scored the most goals in three of the last five Bundesliga seasons, being bested only by Alexander Meier in 2014/2015 and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2016/2017. He did finish second in both those seasons though, and in neither of them did he lose by more than two goals. With the departure of Aubameyang to Arsenal earlier this year, Robert Lewandowski has no competition for the award. He scored almost double the amount of goals his runner-up bagged last season (29 to Nils Petersen’s 15), and he looks set to do the same this upcoming campaign.
Player to watch: Benjamin Pavard
In his first full Bundesliga season, Benjamin Pavard was just one of four players to have featured in every minute of the 2017/2018 German league season. Pavard displayed endurance and versatility, playing at right-back, centre-back, and even central defensive midfield at times. Pavard was part of one of the strongest defences in the Bundesliga last season, and as a result he earned a spot on France’s 2018 World Cup championship squad. Going into this season, Benjamin Pavard has all of the tools necessary to really have a break-out year. He’s already being compared to former French defender Lilian Thuram, and at 22, Pavard looks to set to really take the Bundesliga by storm.